Saturday, July 08, 2006

Counting 101

I've only returned to Japan from lounging in the Colorado foothills about two weeks ago, so the speed it took for me to revert to Japanese ways came as a surprise.

There I was, cheerfully relaying a story of something-or-other to my husband and acting as I normally do (I think they call it "talking with your hands"). Somewhere in the midst of my active exposition I began to number points with my fingers. I never got past one.

The reason for this is that I had unwittingly flung out my middle finger, waving it around like a baton. A few seconds passed before realization flushed across my face and I quickly hid the offending digit.

I really can't remember the last time I flipped someone off. Fortunately, he has also become accustomed to the Japanese way of life, so he wasn't even aware of what I'd done until I began to stutter my apology. We both laughed and went on with life.

It's only those times when I sit and ponder the re-telling of moments like this that I realize just how subtly a surrounding culture can impress itself upon you. Most of the time, you don't even notice. All it takes is submergence amongst natives before their habit of pointing at things on the lunch menu with their middle finger becomes second nature to even the most prudent of Americans.

The lesson I took from all this was that I'd better be careful when we're once again firmly established state-side, which includes being quite aware of what my body is doing during the act of communication. It's not that beginning the counting sequence with the longest finger doesn't make sense and could even be argued as natural (as could just about any other way of counting when attached with an explanation), but my poor grandmother might not know what to think...


Admontius said...

Ha! That's hilarious! But if the middle finger isn't used in Japan to flip people off, how do they do it? Pinky? Thumb? Big toe...? It makes one glad to know that most cultures are forgiving when it comes to foreigners and their mistakes and different ways.

Star said...

As far as Ash & I can tell, the Japanese don't have anything that comes close to meaning what the middle finger does in America.

Then again, maybe we're just lucky enough to be surrounded by polite citizens :)

Kuntry Konfession said...

hmmmh! i love sushi, i love sashami...i love sake....i am jealous! i'm going to plunge off a pier.